Michael Gaskin is a PhD candidate studying the G20 in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. @mpgaskin
On Monday Australia joined the G20 troika, the three-member steering committee comprised of the immediate past chair, the current chair, and the next chair. Australia (2014 Chair) joins Mexico (2012 Chair) and Russia (2013 Chair) at the top table of the top table of global financial governance. But for a tweet from the Treasurer, this moment went remarkably unnoticed. Should we care? I think we should, for a couple of reasons.
At the Pittsburgh Summit in 2009, the G20 labeled itself the premier forum for international economic cooperation. In 2013, 2014, and 2015, Australia will be one of the premier members of the premier forum. This doesn't just deliver prestige, it helps Australia cement its self-ascribed role as a creative middle power.
Obviously, being the Chair in 2014 will deliver Australia the biggest opportunity to stamp its mark on the G20 process, given the Chair's agenda-setting prerogative. But the two years as peripheral members of the troika are not lost. They're an opportunity to learn and to influence. In 2013, Australia will be in a prime spot to learn from any mistakes Russia might make. It will also be an opportunity to steer Russia towards Australia's goals, as well as to pick up on any of Russia's successes.
This learning step will help ensure that Australia's year at the head of the table in 2014 doesn't turn out to be a scattered list of priorities a la France in 2011. In 2015, Australia's job will be to ensure that its achievements from 2014 are established as genuine legacies, and not thrown out in favour of the next fad.
Individual G20 chairs will not be able to solve the problems the global economy faces in one year, let alone multiple problems spanning the policy spectrum. It's important for G20 Chairs to establish continuity in the areas where there has either been success, or where success looks plausible. The innovative troika system enables the G20 to maintain some institutional memory without being encumbered by heavy formal institutional machinery. Further, the troika system is also a key plank in G20 legitimacy claims, a sort of inoculation against criticism that the G20 is a veil for G2 control.
Innovation is one of the key attributes of the G20: its nimble form enables it to adjust to better meet challenges as they arise. It was this very nimbleness in 2008 that enabled the G20 to mutate into a leaders-level beast in the face of the building global financial crisis. Any institutional evolution of the G20 must take care to preserve its agile nature. Australia has now taken a front seat and has one hand on the global economy's steering wheel. That's got to be worth a mention.
Photo by Flickr user I, Timmy.